Sign of 3: With paint, social media and hashtag, ushering in road safety in Goa

Smita Nair
Goa road safety, road safety week Goa, Goa road safety week, Goa news, India news, Indian Express

(From left) Malani, Rodrigues, Chimulkar. (Express Photo by Smita Nair)

A zumba instructor, a house nurse and a taxi operator have been painting speed breakers at night across Goa to help drivers and bikers spot the potential safety hazard, while leaving their stamp -- hashtag 'Rosto (roads in Konkani)' -- etched alongside.

Since December 17, the three, assisted by local residents, have covered 71 speed breakers using paint sprays. Rosto is now a social media exercise with followers across villages and the expat community.

"Every issue in Goa is fought on roads, so we decided to start by painting roads," says Cecille Rodrigues, 38, a mother and a zumba and skating teacher. Rodrigues is assisted by Seema Chimulkar, 60, a house nurse, and Prakash Malani, 32, a taxi operator hailing from Gujarat.

Rosto has its seeds in a car repair bill from last February -- when Rodrigues had to pay Rs 15,000 for shock absorbers. "It hurt since it was also my birthday," she says.

Soon, Rodrigues started documenting deteriorating the state of road in small videos, hoping for a "discussion".

With the fierce Goa monsoon damaging village and tourist roads, and the state government's casual response to the number of road accidents -- 264 deaths in 2018, according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) -- Rodrigues reached out using a language that is uniquely Goan.

In September, she released a parody video showing potholes across the state that went viral. "I used Lorna's (Cordeiro) most famous song 'Bebdo (meaning alcoholic)' of a drunk and negligent husband and replaced it with 'Rosto' for a negligent government drunk on false notions of power," she says.

As people took note, so did Chimulkar, a recluse fighting depression after her parent's death. On October 2, they held a 15-km walk to highlight the bad roads, which led to more participation on social media. "One night before Christmas I just took some oil paint and returned to paint the same speed breaker which had spoilt my back and car," she says.

Rodrigues and Chimulkar started out identifying speed breakers in badly lit areas, or previously declared accident spots, and painting them. One such night Malani, having finished his taxi routine, spotted "two women fanning a speed breaker".

They shooed him away at first. But the father of two girls returned to the spot on his bike, and was handed a broom to clear the remaining stretch. Now, Malani is the in-house speed breaker reconnaissance expert using his work hours in the day to spot, map and create a paint-job inventory for "the night activity".

"Every day, my car jumps at least one speed breaker. I have hurt my head and back several times. And I know many of my friends in the taxi business who have undergone worse, even accidents," he says. "We look out for speed breakers with no signage, or where there are no light poles, or worse, that lie around turns."

Earlier they used oil paint, but it took at least two hours to dry and lasted just a few weeks. Later, they experimented with paint used on football grounds. Chimulkar now has got a paint manufacturer to supply marine paint used in ship decks at wholesale prices.

It takes two cans of these marine paints to cover small speed breakers and five for big. "It comes with a guarantee of six months even under scorching sun and weather," says Malani. Seeing the response to the #Rosto activity, paint manufacturers now want to be branding partners.

While earlier they just painted the speed breaker stripes, now they leave their #Rosto signage. "People should know it's a people's movement. Everyone is welcome to paint and reclaim. No point waiting for government," says Rodrigues.

The three take turns to dry the paint, fanning with cardboards, and even control the night traffic wearing reflectors -- all purchased from their own pockets. Rodrigues and Malani have also now taken an oath to wear Rosto "protest shirt" for 365 days to create awareness and engage in talks during their "social and work hours".

The response has been direct: traffic cops flash a thumbs-up; people "empty their wallet even if they have very little change", with one expat sending 200 pounds; and call from a grateful Candolim resident, who said she no longer had to travel with her husband "just to point out the speed breakers".

"They are doing a wonderful job. This helps in road safety. They are doing the job supposed to be done by road-owning agencies," says Goa traffic police DySP Dharmesh Angle.

"All we know is, of the people, for the people, and by the people. We are reminding that to ourselves through our roads," says Chimulkar.